By: Tara Bennett
Summer may be winding down, but not just yet for Baton Rouge Gallery (BRG). On Sept. 26, Baton Rouge BRG’s popular film series Movies & Music on the Lawn presents a silent film era classic with Buster Keaton’s “Steamboat Bill Jr.,” set to a live, never-before-heard score for the film.
Sponsored by BREC, the screening allows attendees to experience silent film in the way its makers originally intended: on the big screen, with live music and with an audience. The film will be shown on a towering inflatable screen on the lawn behind BRG inside BREC’s City Park. The screening begins at 8 p.m. (or sundown – whichever comes last) at the price of $5 admission for non-members and free for BRG members. Each ticket includes free bottomless popcorn.
Originally, BRG announced the selected film for the finale was to be Charlie Chaplin’s “The Circus.” However, BRG recently had to alter their plans and select a different film that would better fit with their program.
“It came to our attention that any and all Charlie Chaplin films that were created after 1918 were actually created with a score that Chaplin himself created for the film, and can only be screened publically with those score arrangements,” said BRG Executive Director Jason Andreasen. “Since our program is based on the magic that happens when you put a classic silent film that’s nearly 100 years old with a contemporary band, it just didn’t make sense for us to show that film.”
After checking their options, BRG decided to go with Buster Keaton, whose movies they’ve screened in the past and opted for Steamboat Bill Jr, which is widely considered a masterpiece of the silent film era. It stars Keaton as William Canfield Jr., the bumbling son of a riverboat’s rough captain. When a rival brings a newer boat to the river, the family is forced to face competition, just as Keaton is forced to ride out a cyclone threatening to destroy the community. Hilarity ensues as Keaton saves the day while trying win the hand of his lady love, who also just happens to be the daughter of his father’s business rival.
“It’s a coming of age story,” said Andreasen. “It has something for everyone: comedy, romance, adventure, but what’s so memorable about this movie was the stunts.”
Keaton, who grew up performing with the family vaudeville act, was known for performing all his own stunts on camera in the era before post-production special effects. The film includes the famous shot of an entire building front collapsing on Keaton, who is miraculously spared by a conveniently placed second-story window. While watching the film, there is a spilt second reaction from Keaton as the house scrapes against his arm.
“[Keaton] literally took his life into his own hands,” said Andreasen. “There were no special effects back then, there’s no CGI. It’s all legitimately done. Had he been an inch or two off, he could have been crushed or seriously injured.”
During the screening, the film will be scored live with a new soundtrack never heard before by a currently undetermined band. Originally, The Southern University Marching Band, had been scheduled to perform alongside the Keaton film, but they pulled out from the event due to “university-mandated obligations.” BRG is currently working to schedule a new band for the grand finale and hopes to announce their selection during their screening of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lodger, which screens this Friday, August 31 at 8 p.m.
“We’ve been talking with a number of different options,” said Andreasen. “We’re hoping to finalize everything this week.”
For more information on BRG’s Movies & Music on the Lawn series, call 225-383-1470 or visit batonrougegallery.org.